I crouched down and made my way forward, trying to make myself appear as safe and small as possible. “Hey, hello,” I cooed.
The little thing turned her head, her wide eyes scared. Catching sight of her face my chest tightened. She looked so similar to Kelly. I had to wonder how she and her mother were coping.
“It’s all right, it’s okay,” I continued to murmur as I drew my knife from my vest. She flinched when I flicked it open but said nothing. Silent tears continued to roll down her downcast face. I took hold of the cord that ran from a plastic restraint around her ankle and cut her free. Gathering her in my arms, I lifted her. She came willingly, grasping my neck and trying to hold herself even closer to me.
My chest tightened as her arms wrapped around me. Who could do this to toddlers? I pried her right hand free, rubbing at the muck that coated it. There, on her wrist, sat an arrangement of small black dots. I let out a sigh. Her, too. How many more had they made? How many more would they make?
“Mouse, we need the rest of these doors opened.”
“Sure thing.” A chorus of clicks sounded and little lights flashed.
I set the child down, leaning her against the door to the cell where she’d been restrained before moving onto the next door.
I pulled it open slightly. The patter of a child’s uncertain feet followed behind me. From the corner of my eye, I watched the little girl follow a few feet away. I left her to it and opened the next door. Another child with wide eyes came into view. I cut her free and placed her against the wall of the corridor.
Crouched beside the kids, another click reached my ears; a different one. The door at the very end of the room opened. A man in army fatigues pushed through with his weapon out.
Without any hesitation, I drew the handgun from my ankle holster and swung it up. Before I could fire, a shot rang out behind me. He coughed blood and then dropped. I turned to see Matt’s gun in his hand, a glare on his face.
The children screamed as the man fell to the floor. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them in the opposite direction. Huddled in the far corner of the room, their terrified faces stared out at us.
More men arrived quickly and they helped us clear the cells at a much faster pace. The doors to the left held the little girls and on the right there were only boys. When every door had been opened, our back-up cleared the kids out, carrying one on each arm. Some had an extra one on their backs.
Alone again, we kept going, over the fallen guard and through the door at the end. There was only thirteen minutes until midnight.
“Mouse, how are their reinforcements? Still on target?” I asked.
“Nope, they hit bad weather. You have extra time; ETA is now seven minutes past midnight.”
I gave a sigh of relief.
“Mouse, which way?” I asked as we came to a fork in the corridor.
We followed her instructions. The corridor was long and empty. I ran and the other two followed suit. At the very end of the hallway, we found one door. It had a small pad and no other features.
“Mouse, your assistance, please?”
“There’s an electronic lock on this door.”
“There’s no record of any door there. It must be off the grid,” Mouse said.
“What does that mean?”
“I can’t access it. You’ll have to sort it out yourself.”
“So what do we do?” I asked, turning to Matt and Nike.
“I don’t even know what that is,” Nike said.
“Is it a fingerprint scanner?” Matt was confused too.
“There’s only one way to find out.” I pressed my index finger to the little pad. A small bar of light swept down. It whirred for a second before it beeped and flashed red. “I guess I’m not a match. Come with me.” I turned, running back the way we’d come.
The man in fatigues lay where he’d fallen. I grasped one arm, Matt the other. Between us, we dragged him to the door. We held him in place while Nike methodically placed each of his fingers in turn on the pad. She finally reached the index finger on his left hand and the pad flashed green.